Published May 20, 2020Watching Easy Land, viewers will find themselves wanting to protect each character in it — but at the same time, there's something about it that snags onto the mind, raising questions long after the film is over.
Directed by Serbian-Canadian filmmaker and screenwriter Sanja Zivkovic, the film depicts Jasna, played beautifully by Mirjana Jokovic, and her teenage daughter Nina (Nina Kiri), recent Serbain refugees to Canada, as they each attempt to reach their own version of happiness. For Nina, happiness is back in Serbia with her boyfriend and her friends. For Jasna, happiness is in Toronto with her daughter. Jasna is a trained architect, but in Canada she's only able to get work as an intern for a designer she does not respect.
Jasna was scarred by her experiences of war in Serbia. In Toronto, she is going through court-appointed therapy and takes medication to keep her stable. Jasna's dream is to create a centre for recent immigrants, which she wants to call Easy Land, and is convinced she can make it happen. She believes her success will save the family economically, as well as making Nina love her again. As Jasna struggles toward her goal, Nina struggles with high school and building social relationships, all while keeping her mother safe and a roof over their heads.
It's a complex film that explores not just the difficulties refugees and immigrants experience as they try to convince their new country that they are capable enough, but also a fraught mother-daughter relationship, something we're not used to seeing on film. Jasna and Nina do love each other, but they also fight viciously, with the younger Nina oftentimes taking the role of mother, and Jasna the foolhardy teen. The film is also an excellent exploration of mental illness, poverty, and hope.
Jokovic is striking as Jasna. With a firm set of her mouth she shows us Jasna's charming stubbornness, and with a quivering lip she shows us her vulnerability, how afraid she is for Nina, and her frustrations with her own ability and mental health. Kiri plays Nina with a cool reserve — a stoic face as obstinate as Charlotte Gainsbourg's. Nina is strong and it seems like nothing will scare her, while Jasna fights hard to conceal her fright. Jokovic and Kiri are wonderful together, each playing off the other as though they were, in fact, mother and daughter.
The film's only shortcoming is that it leaves some subplots under-explored — namely when Nina is made to intern for a theatre director who's staging Samuel Beckett's Endgame. This play is important to the film's plot, but its themes aren't convincingly woven throughout the movie. The play's presence in the film feels negligible, an afterthought, especially if you haven't brushed up on your Beckett. Long after the movie ends, you keep wondering about the play's significance to the rest of the plot, like an itch you can't scratch.
Then there is the fact of Jasna's and Nina's pasts: both recent events (what exactly led to Jasna's court-appointed therapy?) and their Serbian pasts are left ambiguous. I wish we could have learned more about this aspect of the characters. But the fact that the characters are as compelling as they are without having their backstories fleshed our speaks to Easy Land's success. Backstories or not, Jasna and Nina are easy to love. (Mongrel Media)